2012-11-28 / Business News

MONEY & INVESTING

Savvy moves can help you save on travel
jeannetteSHOWALTER, CFA

Investors are always seeking new ideas for generating returns. They are also positively disposed toward practices that save them money. Since December is the season for traveling and we’ll soon approach spring break and Easter holiday travel, here are some ideas for creating savings.

Airfare

The cheapest fares are generally found by booking far in advance of a trip. Except for the Type A planners or for events known in advance with great certainty (e.g., graduations, college breaks and weddings, which are known six months or more in advance), the average traveler is putting together an itinerary a few months to several weeks before departure. If you book in advance and then later have to cancel a hotel reservation, you will face serious penalties or a total loss if you booked on an Internet site noted for discounted hotel costs. If you later have to cancel a flight reservation, you face rebooking fees that are generally around $100 per flight.

Southwest Airlines is the one airline that does not charge a cancellation/ rebooking fee. The problem is that iti does not always offer the cheapest flight.f

Si One way to best take advantage of Southwest’s no-fee cancellation policy is to dyt book as soon as possible. If those departure dates and locations change, you can always cancel the flight and the credit remains in your account for a reasonable period of time. If your flight’s departure dates and locations remain unchanged, you can then be looking for an even cheaper fare that might be found as the date of departure approaches.

I booked my roundtrip Thanksgiving holiday tickets on Southwest from Fort Lauderdale to Austin recently. (I live close to Southwest Florida International Airport, but I prefer driving from Naples to Fort Lauderdale to get a nonstop fight.) The flight Southwest offered wasn’t a bad fare, but it wasn’t great, and it had a plane change stopover.

The day before my departure, I found a non-stop on Jet Blue for close to $100. Now that was a great fare. Since I could cancel the Southwest flight at the last minute, I took advantage of the deal. Two days before the SWA return flight I was able to get another Jet Blue flight but this time for $84!

Now, that might seem unfair to Southwest, but the truth is that because the airline offers this no-cost cancellation policy, I have chosen to accumulate all my credit card purchases on the airline’s credit card in order to get its bonus miles. Southwest has become my airline of first choice. It’s just not the only choice.

As it seems that my college-age children were always changing their plans at the last minute and I was always paying penalties on what was attempted to be the cheapest flight cost, I finally figured out that, for them, I can only book on Southwest.

Hotels

Unless your travel plans are 100 percent certain, booking a hotel on a discount Internet site is often a dangerous proposition. Continuing the theme of cancellation without penalty as a travel priority, I have come to use www.Hotelplanner.com as my booking site of choice. It is my experience that its prices are better than all the other Internet discount sites and most of the time they allow free cancellation. Sometimes cancellation the day before is allowed. Other times, the cancellation must occur several days before. If no cancellation is allowed, then it generally means that the hotel cost is extremely below market. Most often, the hotel cost is shown two ways: nonrefundable and refundable, with the former being cheaper.

Booking a hotel at a very cheap price, which also permits last minute cancellation then allows me to consider alternative hotels as I approach the departure date. I will search www.Hotelplanner.com for a cheaper alternative and I often use Groupon’s getaways to book a hotel.

Before you book on Groupon (an online free discount service for buying services and products) you must read the fine print as to when the hotel’s Groupon can be used. The dates you specifically need may be blocked. I have learned that the sequence of calling the hotel as to availability, followed by purchase of the Groupon, and then call back to the hotel to give a Groupon code etc. does not always work. Sometimes, within that short window of time between getting the code and calling the hotel to make the discounted reservation, the room has been booked by someone else.

So, this is my revised Groupon procedure: pull up the hotel Groupon on the web and get ready to enter the purchase (meaning that Groupon has all my credit card information and I am linked to the page allowing the specific hotel’s purchase). I then call the hotel and tell them I have a Groupon and want to know if there is availability on certain dates. If they have availability, I then enter the Groupon purchase and immediately, I can access this Groupon certificate (with the relevant codes that the hotel requires with the booking.)

E-mail your travel tips and possibly you will see them posted in this column in a follow up on travel savings. ¦

— Jeannette Showalter, CFA, is a commodities broker with Worldwide Futures Systems. She can be reached at 571- 8896 or jshowaltercfa@yahoo.com.

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